His electronic music from the 1970s and '80s captivated global audiences some three decades after their initial release.
Onyeabor, an enigmatic pioneer of electronic music in his home country, self-released nine albums in the late '70s and early '80s. Worldwide interest in his music exploded some three decades later, following the release of a compilation called Who is William Onyeabor? on David Byrne's Luaka Bop label in 2013. Onyeabor's enigmatic streak was then captured in a film, Fantastic Man, that came out the following year. He died in his home in Enugu, Nigeria, after a brief illness.
Luaka Bop confirmed the death of Onyeabor in a statement on his Facebook page:
"It is with incredibly heavy hearts that we have to announce that the great Nigerian business leader and mythic music pioneer William Onyeabor has passed away at the age of 70. He died peacefully in his sleep following a brief illness, at his home in Enugu, Nigeria. An extraordinary artist, businessman and visionary, Mr. Onyeabor composed and self-released nine brilliant albums of groundbreaking electronic-funk from 1977-1985, which he recorded, pressed and printed at Wilfilms Limited—his personal pressing plant in southeast Nigeria.
In the late 1980s, he was awarded West African Industrialist Of The Year and given the honorary title "Justice of the Peace." In the early 1990s, he became the President of Enugu's Musician's Union and Chairman of the city's local football team, The Enugu Rangers. For many in his hometown of Enugu, Nigeria, he was simply referred to as "The Chief" and known for having created many opportunities for the people in his community.
With the release of Who is William Onyeabor? in 2013, his music and story took the world by storm. The release was featured in major newspapers, radio and television stations all around the world. Time Magazine listed him as number four on a shortlist of that year's best albums. In 2014, the film documentary Fantastic Man followed, as well as the Atomic Bomb! Who Is William Onyeabor? live shows, which travelled to the most regarded festivals and music venues worldwide-starring over 50 special guests from many diverse generations, genres and backgrounds.
Still, William Onyeabor would never speak about himself and for a long time refused many of the interview requests that came his way. Having become Born Again in the latter part of life, he only wanted to speak about God. We would like to send our deepest condolences to his family and thank each and every one of you who has helped share the love for his music around the world."